You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant… except a good movie

Thanksgiving time. It’s about families, food, and football. And for me, it’s also about movies. It’s a great time to take a day off and fest on some films, either blu-rays from my “view” pile or releases that I have not yet caught in theaters.

One of the films on that sizable pile was Alice’s Restaurant, which is based on Arlo Guthrie’s semi-autobigraphical song Alice’s Restaurant Massacree. I first watched it over twenty-five years ago, with my (at the time, on-and-off, kinda-sorta) girlfriend Amanda. I was hoping that we would have the opportunity to make out for two hours, but, unfortunately, Alice’s Restaurant was not “make out” material. Not even close.

In Alice’s Restaurant Arlo (the son of folk singer Woody Guthrie) plays himself, and does a good job doing it. In the film, as in the song, Arlo goes through various “adventures”, including a Thanksgiving feast, a run in with the law, and an interesting encounter with the draft board. There is no real plot, as it follows the structure of the song, presenting events as vignettes that barely connect to each other.

So, how does it hold up? Well, it depends on your state of mind. If you are a fan of Arlo Guthrie’s music, you will probably enjoy it. If you are looking for a “comedy” you may be disappointed, because Alice’s Restaurant is whimsical, dramatic and joyless – all at the same time. If you are looking for something “deep” you won’t find much here. Supposedly a “statement” on America’s apathy towards the Vietnam War and the failure of the hippie ideal, the movie is far more melodramatic than meaningful. And how many scenes can you tolerate of hippies being harassed by “normal” people? If that number is less than four, then you may not “dig” the movie at all.

The film is adequately directed by Arthur Penn, who has done MUCH better work, and the supporting cast are generic and nondescript. All in all, I was bemused by the rewatch… but not very entertained.

A unique period piece, it’s worth watching just for the music which (ironically) is the best part of the film.

Or you can just listen to the song.

Joseph Dickerson is a user experience professional and UX Lead for Microsoft based out of Atlanta, GA. He has implemented processes in user testing, design and ethnographic research and provided design and consulting services for many different projects and organizations.

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